Monday, July 23, 2007

Week 41 - What Does the Marketplace Think of Your Business?

What is perception and why is it important? Perception is defined in the Macquarie Dictionary as “…to gain knowledge through one of the senses…” In other words, perhaps our experience versus the facts. The famous marketing authors Al Ries and Jack Trout tell us in their book “The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing”:

“…the three largest selling Japanese imported cars in America are Honda, Toyota and Nissan. Most marketing people think the battle between the three brands is based on quality, styling, horsepower and price. Not true. It’s what people think about a Honda, a Toyota or a Nissan that determines which brand will win.”

Can you relate to those statements? Do you just “know” that your coffee is the best in the district or that your photography is better than anyone else’s, or that your hotel is always cleaner and more comfortable? If you are not seeing the results you would like, you could be right about your product or service, but the community may believe otherwise. Ries and Trout continue:

“What makes the battle even more difficult is that customers frequently make buying decisions based on second-hand perceptions. Instead of using their own perceptions, they base their buying decisions on someone else’s perception of reality. This is the “everybody knows” principle.”

This introduces a dangerous concept; bad word of mouth advertising. As you all know, this can literally ruin a business. “Everybody knows” can spread through a community or entire town very quickly. Think about it. When you are talking about products and services amongst friends, perceptions often rear their heads. “…they are expensive…”, “…it’s too cold on their balcony…”, “…they always turn up late…”, “…we waited an hour for a table and the staff were rude…”

On and on it goes, and you make decisions based on these second hand perceptions. The only way to proactively ensure that your business does not suffer is to keep on soliciting feedback from your customers. As I have said, just ask, and keep on asking. You will pick up perceptions good and bad every day. You are then in a position to change these perceptions by making good an error or calling the affected customer to explain exactly what happened and why it won’t happen again.

STOP PRESS: There is far more to perception than just making sure there is not negativity surrounding your product or service. Do you pay more for dinner at an exclusive restaurant? Do you pay more for Nike shoes than for a store brand? Would you pay more for a Mercedes Benz over a Lexus? The questions are of course rhetorical as people do this all the time. What this means for your business is simple: if the market doesn’t believe it, you cannot price at a premium! Put another way, perceptions will always be directly linked to your ability to charge more for your product.

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